Learn from incident

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 May, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 May, 1994, 12:00am

WE refer to the ''Whitehead incident'' of April 7, in which approximately 1,200 Correctional Services Department (CSD) employees and officers forcibly removed 1,500 Vietnamese detainees from Section 7 to High Island Detention Centre. This ''transfer operation'' was conducted without notice to those who were moved by the arrival of uniformed, armed officers (in full riot gear) at dawn.

The tactics used not only violate basic human rights and individual dignity, but also are counter-productive in both the short and long term. The unnecessarily violent approach had a traumatic effect on the detainees involved, a majority of whom were women and children. Moreover, violence begets violence, and the detainees attacked (as well as all other Vietnamese detainees who have heard of the incident) will now be more likely to resist, violently or otherwise, the orders of the camp administrators.

We suggest the following for dealing with potentially explosive situations: To the greatest extent possible, inform people of what will happen (even if they may not like the news, knowledge will allow them to begin to accommodate and prepare themselves for the eventuality).

Whenever possible, identify leaders and negotiate in good faith (for example, a forced move on a holy day or at dawn, might be resisted while a forced move at a more convenient time would be, grudgingly, accepted).

We would ask Mr F.M. McCosh, the Commissioner of Correctional Services, not to confuse resolve with force.

We hope that Mr McCosh will not again soon face such a situation, and we pray that if he does, he will have learned from the events of April 7.